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Balad Al Reef Seeks Return To Form In Al Ain Season Finale

Al Ain Racecourse stage their final fixture of the current campaign on Friday with a seven-race card featuring both the Al Ain Derby and the final leg of the Al Ain Marathon Series. Each contest carries Prestige Status. The most valuable, worth AED120,000, is the final leg of the Al Ain Marathon Series, a handicap over the stamina-sapping 5100m and for which seven have been declared. First contested in 2015, it has been won in each of the last two years by Balad Al Reef, trained by Abdallah Al Hammadi for Al Ajban Stables.

Fernando Jara, in the saddle for both those victories and all three defeats during this campaign, in the first three rounds of the Al Ain Marathon Series, said: “The return to the longer trip is going to suit him, but it does look a strong renewal this year with some improving stayers in opposition.”

Those establishing themselves as serious stayers this season include Ajjaj and Shamikh Al Wathba, who are both trained by Jean de Roualle for Yas Horse Racing Management. The mount of Richard Mullen, Shamikh Al Wathba won the first two rounds over 2600m (courtesy of the stewards) and 3200m. but like four others was then unable to get anywhere near Ajjaj in the 4100m Third Round Of The Al Ain Marathon Series. It was actually Ajjaj, for his previous trainer, who was first past the post but subsequently disqualified in the second round awarded to Shamikh Al Wathba.

In the third round, four weeks ago, Ajjaj and Adrie de Vries went straight to the front, were soon clear and, basically, stayed there, winning by more than ten lengths.De Vries again rides Ajjaj .
“It is a new, even longer, trip for both of them but they should stay.” De Roualle, who trains on the Al Ain track, said, “Ajjaj is a lot higher in the handicap this time but looks to be improving, while Shamikh Al Wathba is a nice, young, horse who is still learning. Hopefully we have two nice chances but it will be a tough race.”

The Al Asayl team of HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan and Eric Lemartinel are responsible for three of the septet with Tadhg O’Shea electing to ride RB Rich Surprise, a well beaten fourth in this last year. His stable companion Sheikh Down to be ridden by Jesus Rosales was actually second on that occasion, as he was in 2016. However, he was tailed off on both his two most recent outings, in the first and second legs of the challenge.

Restricted to the four-year-old Classic generation, the 1800m Al Ain Derby was first run in 2016 and has attracted a field of 14 this year. O’Shea riding for Sheikh Khalifa and Lemartinel partners Ras Esina, one of just two fillies in the race. Winner of a 1400m maiden on her debut in November, she has not added to that success, but has been performing well in defeat.

This fifth career outing will be her first on dirt and O’Shea said: “She works nicely on dirt so this looks a good race to try her on it in a race. It is a decent little contest but she should be thereabouts if handling the surface.”

However, the one they all have to beat is ES Ajeeb, trained by Ibrahim Aseel and, after a debut defeat at Sharjah in November, easy winner of his next two races, including a 19 length victory in a maiden. That was also at Sharjah before he switched to turf and landed the Listed Arabian Triple Crown over 1600m in Abu Dhabi.

He was about to win the 1700m HH The Ruler Of Sharjah Cup three weeks ago when he unseated Sam Hitchcott, aboard for both his victories, when, basically refusing to enter the home straight. Assuming he behaves himself on this occasion, he will be very hard to beat indeed with Hitchcott hoping for a smoother passage.